Ora Cogan is not easily categorised. Since releasing her 2007 debut, Tatter, the Canadian artist has continued to evolve in intriguing ways, not only as a musician but as an activist, filmmaker, photographer and writer. Her new EP, Dyed, follows 2020’s shapeshifting album, Bells in the Ruins, and finds her exploring gradations of shoegaze and experimental folk succoured through shadows and light. As well as the high and airy title track, described as “a cryptic rumination on awkward love,” there’s a cloudy, ephemerally anxious mood piece (‘Diver’) and a tantalising cover of PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’, completely reimagined within Ora’s rapt soundworld.
We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspires them. To celebrate the release of Dyed, we caught up with Ora to ask about the music that has inspired her the most. See below for their choices of her five favourite albums, and be sure to catch her on tour with Aoife Nessa Frances in November. Full list of headline and support dates here.
1. Buffy Sainte-Marie – Coincidence and Likely Stories
One of my favourite memories of this record is from when I was a kid. My mum and I had picked up my godmother on the side of a highway for a roadtrip. I think my godmum had just finished doing some kind of farm work, but I’m not sure. She’d click her rings on the dashboard, singing along to every song on this record at the top of her lungs as we drove through the desert. Buffy Sainte-Marie is a legend, she’s one of the greatest songwriters alive and has many mind-blowing albums of course, but Coincidence and Likely Stories was the first record of hers I heard that I fell in love with. I keep going back to these songs. Her work continues to inspire me to write honestly, to try to use songwriting as a way of finding understanding in life, in politics, in love. She inspires me to write songs that speak truth to power.
2. Fiver – Audible Songs from Rockwood
Audible Songs from Rockwood is a monumental piece of work. This record is comprised of songs Fiver (Simone Schmidt) wrote after of years of research on inmates incarcerated in the Rockwood Asylum for “the criminally insane” in Kingston, Ontario, between 1856 and 1881. The songs speak of these women’s lives and dig into matters of the heart, the justice system, colonialism, ableism. This record is more than a record, with 30 pages of liner notes featuring illustrations, history, and context for the songs. I first heard Fiver when I opened for them at one of the stops on their tour in support of this album, and they had the whole audience spellbound. I look up to them as an artist so much, and this project was such generous work.
3. Marika Papagika – The Further the Flame, The Worse It Burns Me
Marika Papagika moved to New York City from Greece and became a prolific recording artist there. She eventually opened a club with her husband in the ‘20s and had a successful music career, but that ended abruptly with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. I fell in love with Marika Papagika after Eric Isaacson at Mississippi Records introduced me to her work. Rumbetiko feels vital and familiar as I grew up listening to Jewish folk music that can sometimes have similar vocal lines. Marika’s voice felt relatable, and this record will always hold so much magic for me. Marika inspires me endlessly to be a better singer.
4. Nina Simone – Sings the Blues
The opening track, ‘Do I Move You’, kills me every time. You can hear people yelling in the recording, they were feeling it so much. I first heard this album when my friend Jeremy from Shearing Pinx was DJing a bush party a few hours north of Nanaimo. The song was echoing across a lake, and I swear I could feel the whole natural world saying, ‘Yes, Nina Simone, you move us, you move everything. The whole universe bends towards you.’ I might have been high, but it’s still the truth. She was truly the best.
5. White Magic – Through the Sun Door
White Magic (Mira Billotte) has been one of my favorite musicians forever. I first heard her when she was a part of the Washington D.C. group Quix*o*tic; their song ‘The Breeze’ stopped me dead in my tracks. My friends and I used to stay up all night crafting or painting with Through the Sun Door on repeat. For us, I think, this album was our touchstone, like a secret passageway to an alternate reality. Some music opens up entire worlds, and for me this was a teleportation device. This record is intimate but spacious. Some of it feels like tavern music, punk, psychedelic folk and experimental music at the same time. I love the unique arrangements. I don’t know any other music that breathes like this does.
Thanks to Ora Cogan for sharing her Five Favourites with us!
Watch her video for ‘Diver’ below.
Dyed, the new EP from Ora Cogan, is out now via her own label Prism Tongue Records.
Photo Credit: Journey Meyerhoff